| Ricky Ponting and Rahul Dravid walk off the Gabba on Monday. (Reuters)
Brisbane: Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman shared a crucial half-century partnership for the third wicket to thwart Australia’s desperate attempt to force a result in the first Test at the Gabba here on Monday.
Set an improbable target of 199 in 23 overs, India lost both openers quickly but pulled up their socks in time to reach 73 for two to earn a commendable draw against the world champions.
Dravid remained unbeaten on 43 and Laxman on 24 when stumps were drawn for the last time. The second Test begins in Adelaide on Friday.
While India would claim morale victory from this rain-marred game after dominating the hosts on Day II and gaining the first-innings lead, Australia would take heart from the fact that their batsmen found form on the last day and toyed with the Indian bowling.
The Indian tail wagged for a while this morning to stretch the total to 409, for a first-innings lead of 86. The Aussie batsmen then made the most of lackadaisical Indian bowling to race to 284 for three before Steve Waugh declared the second innings closed in an attempt to score some psychological points.
Sourav Ganguly, adjudged Man-of-the-Match for his brilliant 144, may have taken a draw as a foregone conclusion, but the way the bowlers struggled to keep a check on the hosts must be worrying the Indian captain.
Waugh, who erased his ignominous first-innings performance with an unbeaten 56, joined forces with Damien Martyn (66 not out) to score at more than 4.5 runs an over.
The 38-year-old veteran of 165 Tests may have also hoped to pick a hole in the tourists’ batting with his declaration since Sachin Tendulkar was ineligible to take the field for 48 minutes of the Indian chase after going off in the post-lunch session.
Waugh’s plans seemed to be working when Virender Sehwag played a poor shot to become a victim of Nathan Bracken once again.
Off the next ball, Akash Chopra, having crossed over while Martyn was pouching the high catch, poked outside the off stump to be taken by Justin Langer in the slips. It was four for two and the Kangaroos had their tails up.
In came Laxman — ahead of Tendulkar and Sourav — and with Dravid, not only prevented further setbacks but scored at will. It was good practice for Dravid, who had missed out in the first innings falling to a Jason Gillespie beauty.
The morning session was a good one for the Indians. Both overnight batsmen — Parthiv Patel and Ajit Agarkar — were back in the pavilion without any addition to their scores, but Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh defied the Aussie bowlers for an hour, sharing a 41-run stand which took India past the 400-run mark. Trailing by 86 runs, Australia lost first-innings centurion Justin Langer for a duck. The left-hander nicked an Ajit Agarkar away-swinger to Patel.
Matthew Hayden was at his imperious best, playing some breathtaking shots of immense power. He smashed 99 off 98 balls, with 11 fours and two sixes, before sweeping Harbhajan Singh straight to Sehwag at the square-leg fence.
Hayden may have narrowly missed out on his 17th Test century but he achieved a significant milestone nonetheless during this knock.
He ran a four in the first over to complete 1,000 runs in the calendar year for the third consecutive time. The others to have scored 1,000 or more runs in 2003 so far are West Indian captain Brian Lara and South African skipper Graeme Smith.
Ricky Ponting (50) was the other batsman out, driving Ashish Nehra uppishly for Sehwag to take a sharp chance in the gully region.
Meanwhile, Sourav was on Monday fined 10 per cent of his match fees by Mike Procter for India’s slow over-rate. According to an official announcement, the Match Referee also fined the rest of the Indian team members five per cent of their match fees.The Indians, eight overs short in Australia’s first innings, made up somewhat in the second innings with Harbhajan and Sehwag bowling quite a bit.